PARENTS are being urged to have their say over potential changes to special educational needs and disabilities provision for schoolchildren following cuts in government funding.

Darlington Borough Council is set to hold a public consultation into the future of the provision as it says the current model is 'unsustainable'.

The new strategy aims to create a clearer high needs funding model and will see children's special educational needs reviewed on an annual basis, rather than schools being given a lump sum to allocate accordingly.

In recent years there has been an annual overspend in the area and it is hoped that savings could be made by making special needs provision more targeted.

The council receives £6,000 from the government per child with special education needs but a £3m overspend is expected by the end of 2018/19.

Previously the gap in funding has been plugged by money from the collective designated school budget but that will not be possible once the changes in funding come in from central government.

Councillor Cyndi Hughes, cabinet member for children and young people, said the council's primary aim is to make provision transparent rather than 'ad-hoc', adding: "And the fact is the status quo, maintaining what we have, is impossible and everybody can see that."

Since 2014 the number of children in Darlington with special education needs has risen by 17 per cent and Cllr Hughes said there needs to be questions asked and some 'drilling down' to find out why that is.

She said the proposed new strategy would involve closer working with professionals in health and social care and decisions over children's needs would be decided by an independent panel.

The new strategy includes changes to transport for special needs schoolchildren, with a focus on promoting independence and helping the young person learn travel skills that will help them in later life.

Currently special needs transport usually remains in place for a child throughout their school life whereas the new strategy would review this annually and make changes in line with the child's needs.

Over-provision of the current transport service has resulted in a significant overspend by the council, but Cllr Hughes said this does not mean that transport will be withdrawn for children who need it, rather that there will be a more flexible approach including options such as providing parents with an allowance for travel.

She said: "We are not going to stop somebody's money and say 'there's the bus', we have to be absolutely sure that they are capable of doing that (travelling by bus) because really it is about promoting that independence, not putting people in a dangerous situation."

The council's cabinet will be asked to approve the consultation when it meets next Tuesday, October 9.

If approved, a six-week consultation will follow and Cllr Hughes said: "The word 'consultation' is scary and sometimes a bit of a turn-off, but I really encourage people to get involved with this and to embrace it and to look at it with their child at the centre."

The consultation would end on November 21 before the proposals are considered again by cabinet in February 2019.

Any changes that are agreed would be implemented by September 2019.

Details on how to get involved in the consultation will be released at